15 Pages

Wellbeing/welfare, schooling and social justice

Caring relationships with students, parents and community
ByO’Brien Maeve

While strongly supportive of the view that schools should be concerned with student wellbeing and aim to foster and teach for and about wellbeing, the chapter begins on a somewhat cautious note around the possibilities and challenges to a ‘wellbeing project’ in schools today. My concern is around the relation between the reproduction of inequality in society through schooling and how this affects holistic wellbeing and welfare for particular groups of students. In other words, this chapter seeks to explore the relation between wellbeing in the context of schooling, and the social and economic inequalities that compromise wellbeing in the broader social world. Traditionally, schooling has been more concerned with cultural and knowledge production than with wellbeing, and I argue that this is a powerful reason why we cannot ignore the processes of schooling itself, and how unequal resources possessed by families translate into different material and social consequences for students, which in turn affect their flourishing and welfare. What I wish to spell out here is the role that schooling has consistently played in maintaining hierarchical societal relations and socio-cultural inequalities both through formal and informal relations of production (e.g. formal and informal/hidden curricula) in schools (Bourdieu, 1984; Baker, Lynch, Cantillon and Walsh, 2004). Given the role of schooling in social and economic reproduction, it would be disingenuous to discuss wellbeing and schooling without contextualising schooling as a significant means of production of valued cultural capital. How schooling can advantage/disadvantage groups and individuals relative to participation and the acquisition of capital is a matter that needs to be teased out in relation to this newer ‘wellbeing’ role for schools. In doing so, we can better understand the possibilities and limits of teaching and of supporting something we can call wellbeing. In other words, there is a need to name an inherent tension between the new assigned wellbeing role of 154schools, and their role in the social reproduction of inequality, which can act as an obstacle to being well. It is within this broader societal and socio-economic context that we need to think about a wellbeing curriculum. Some educators might argue that the school and a traditional curriculum are not the appropriate space in which to expect transformations of equality and social justice, what we think of as ‘welfare wellbeing’ to come about (Baker et al., 2004, see also MacAllister Chapter 6 on these distinctions).